It’s Not What We Feel But What We Feed
This is a quote that I have used before, but I thought I would revisit it because it does such a nice job of letting us know where we can intervene if we want to have more influence in our experience of life. It also goes beyond the debate about whether we have a right or whether it is “right” to feel angry, frustrated, annoyed, anxious, or depressed.
The truth is that we can’t always control our first feeling, and maybe that’s a good thing, because we really don’t want to become some robot or automaton who has to control every thought or feeling that comes to mind. By the same token, we also don’t want to be at the mercy of every thought or feeling that “comes to mind,” especially those that throw us into the lower reactive brain, and limit our ability to be effective in life.
So, what’s the solution? We need to bring more awareness to the process. This means that we need to ensure that we are making a distinction between what we feel and what we feed, because, in my opinion, it is this distinction (or lack thereof) that has been both the problem, and that holds the potential for influence in the future.
By the way, when I’m talking about “what we feed,” I’m referring to our tendency to feel angry, anxious, frustrated, etc., and then use that reaction as motivation for what we do next. For some, it’s looking for who’s to blame. For others, it’s worrying about the reaction itself, while others tend to beat themselves up (which is really beating themselves down) for having the feeling in the first place. Regardless, the result is rarely satisfying, because we are feeding, validating, and trusting the negative reaction, which means that we are feeding the brainstem, or the reactive part of the brain that is only designed for fight-or-flight. This means that, if the solution requires us to access our best skills and abilities, we will not be able to do this because we are trapped in this lower 20% of the brain.
Therefore, I suggest that we apply the latest neuroscience to the situation, and “feed” the neocortex (what I call the “Top of the Mind”). We make a purposeful choice with respect to the qualities and characteristics that we are bringing to life. In other words, if clarity, confidence, creativity, and compassion are what is needed to deal with the situation at hand, let’s make sure that we are coming from the part of the brain where these sort of skills and abilities reside.
This reminds me of a story that you may have heard that illustrates how different parts of our brain can produce different experiences of life. It’s about a little boy who was getting into a lot of fights at school. He was confused because a part of him believed that you should stand up for yourself, and not take any “lip” from anyone, while another part of him knew that fighting really wasn’t the way to solve problems. Unfortunately, he had not resolved these two perspectives, and, thus, was constantly getting into fights. Further, his teachers, and parents were becoming increasingly upset and concerned about the problem, and so, finally, the little boy went to talk to his grandfather. He said, “Grandfather, I don’t know what to do. I’m getting into a lot of fights at school, and part of me says not to take any lip from anyone, while another part says that fighting isn’t the way to solve problems. I am really confused.” His grandfather was very wise, and, therefore, rather than lecturing to the boy, he told him a story about himself. He said, “You know, I felt exactly the same way when I was your age. It was like I had these two dogs inside of me . . . one was a mean old dog, always looking to pick a fight, and the other was a more intelligent, even friendly dog, and they always seemed to be struggling for dominance.”
Upon hearing this, the boy’s eyes lit up, and he said:
“That’s it! That’s it! Which dog won?”
The grandfather took a moment and very quietly said:
“It depended on which dog I fed.”
That’s what we need to understand if we want to create a life of joy and meaning. We are always either feeding, validating, trusting the purposeful, intelligent, and compassionate brain or the old reactive brain, and, thus, the “dog we feed,” or the part of us that we trust, will determine our experience of life.